The APS Museum has a historically significant collection of approximately 3,000 artifacts and fine art objects, many dating back to the late 18th century. The collection reflects the central role of the APS and Philadelphia in the founding of the nation as well as the development of science and technology in the colonies and early republic. The collection is strongest in objects relating to early American history (especially Benjamin Franklin, the APS’s founder) and scientific and technological instruments from the 18th century through the early 20th century. Objects were acquired predominantly through past APS Members and scientific activities of the APS.
Treasures of the APS Museum collection include significant portraits of Founding Fathers; models of inventions; scientific instruments made by or relating to David Rittenhouse and other early APS Members; plant specimens collected by Lewis and Clark; Benjamin Franklin’s personal belongings, such as a set of stencils, tall case clock, and library chair with fold-out steps; a bust of the Marquis de Condorcet by Jean Antoine Houdon; and a 16th-century refractive sundial, known as the “Dial of Ahaz,” by Christoph Schissler.
Before the founding of the APS Museum, the collection was used almost exclusively for academic research. With the opening of the Museum in 2001, the APS committed to making its holdings available to the wider public. The Museum has pursued this mission by offering thematic exhibitions and public and educational programming. Thanks to a 2008 grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Museum embarked on a project to offer even better access to the objects. As a result, the collection has become more physically accessible to visitors and scholars through stewardship efforts, including cataloging, photographing, conserving, archival rehousing, and renovation of the storage space. It is from these efforts that the APS online searchable database is now available.